Unstructured kinetic models to simulate an arabinose switch that decouples cell growth from metabolite production

Harley Edwards, Peng Xu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Modeling synthetic gene circuits to implement dynamic flux balancing is crucial in teaching and exploring metabolic engineering strategies to repartition metabolic precursors and construct efficient microbial cell factories. Microbial fitness and production rates are often complex phenotypes that are governed by highly non-linear, multivariable functions which are intrinsically linked through carbon metabolism. The solution of such dynamic system can be difficult for synthetic biologists to visualize or conceptualize. Recently, researchers (Santala et al., Metab. Eng. Comm., 2018) have implemented an arabinose based genetic switch to dynamically partition the central carbon flux between cell growth and product formation. The autonomous switch allowed dynamic shift from arabinose-associated cell growth to acetate-associated product (wax ester) formation. This system clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of using a genetic switch to decouple cell growth from product formation in a one-pot bioreactor to minimize operational cost. Coupled with Michaelis-Menten kinetics, and Luedeking-Piret equations, we were able to reconstruct and analyze this metabolic switch in silica and achieved graphical solutions that qualitatively match with the experimental data. By assessing physiologically-accessible parameter space, we observed a wide range of dynamic behavior and examined the different limiting cases. Graphical solutions for this dynamic system can be viewed simultaneously and resolved in real time via buttons on the graphical user interface (GUI). Metabolic bottlenecks in the system can be accurately predicted by varying the respective rate constants. The GUI serves as a diagnosis toolkit to troubleshoot genetic circuits design constraints and as an interactive workflow of using this arabinose based genetic switch to dynamically control carbon flux, which may provide a valuable computational toolbox for metabolic engineers and synthetic biologists to simulate and understand complex genetic-metabolic system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-229
Number of pages8
JournalSynthetic and Systems Biotechnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Biophysical models
  • Central carbon flux
  • Dynamic control
  • Green chemistry
  • Intelligent biomanufacturing
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Metabolic switches


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